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The role of hemiparasitic plants: influencing tallgrass prairie quality, diversity, and structure

DiGiovanni, Jane P., Wysocki, William P., Burke, Sean V., Duvall, Melvin R., Barber, Nicholas A.
Restoration ecology 2017 v.25 no.3 pp. 405-413
Andropogon gerardii, C4 plants, Chamaecrista fasciculata, Comandra umbellata, Pedicularis canadensis, aboveground biomass, community structure, correlation, grasses, grasslands, greenhouses, hosts, legumes, moieties, parasitic plants, parasitism, phylogeny, species diversity, wood
Wood betony, Orobanchaceae (Pedicularis canadensis) and bastard toadflax, Santalaceae (Comandra umbellata) are two root‐hemiparasitic plant species found in tallgrass prairie communities. Natural resource managers are interested in utilizing these species as “pseudograzers” in grasslands to reduce competitively dominant grasses and thereby increase ecological diversity and quality in prairie restorations and urban plantings. We performed an observational field study at 5 tallgrass prairie sites to investigate the association of hemiparasite abundance with metrics of phylogenetic and ecological diversity, as well as floristic quality. Although no reduction in C₄ grasses was detected, there was a significant association between hemiparasite abundance and increased floristic quality at all 5 sites. Hemiparasite abundance and species richness were positively correlated at one restoration site. In a greenhouse mesocosm experiment, we investigated response to parasitism by P. canadensis in 6 species representing different plant functional groups of the tallgrass prairie. The annual legume partridge pea, Fabaceae (Chamaecrista fasciculata) had the greatest significant dry biomass reduction among 6 host species, but the C₄ grass big bluestem, Poaceae (Andropogon gerardii) had significantly greater aboveground biomass when grown with the hemiparasite. Overall, host species biomass as a total community was significantly reduced in mesocosms, consistent with other investigations that demonstrate influence on community structure by hemiparasitic plant species. Although hemiparasites were not acting as pseudograzers, they have the potential to influence community structure in grassland restorations and remnants.